Easter message from the Bishop in Europe

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,


“God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19)

It is of the nature of this ‘Easter Message’ that it is written, published and mostly read in Lent, well before Easter. So I invite us to think about the joy of the resurrection in the context of the events leading up to the crucifixion of our Lord.

In the celebration of the Church’s liturgy there is the greatest dramatic distance between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. On Good Friday we recall the arrest of Jesus, Peter’s betrayal, the trials before Pilate and Herod, the baying crowd demanding crucifixion, the scourging and crucifixion. These are all events which depict the darkest aspects of human nature and which are appropriately expressed in sombre reflection and meditative music. Easter Sunday is a complete contrast centring on a garden tomb, a stone rolled away and the presence of angels impelling us to declare with organ and trumpets: ‘Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son: endless is the victory thou o’er death hast won.’

It would, however, be very far from the case to suppose that Easter Sunday simply cancels out holy week and Good Friday. It is not as if God somehow switches on a light that turns night into day, so that fortunate Christians can now live in a peaceable world where love, life and grace simply dissolve all the disfigurements of human sin and evil. Instead, what we see in the pages of the New Testament, are the implications of Easter Sunday being progressively and challengingly worked out in the lives of individuals and communities. The church is born as people work out an answer to the question: ‘What does it mean that the Jesus who was deserted and executed is alive with God and also present with us who follow him?’

The gospel writers show in different ways how the resurrection is good news for human beings – precisely including those who were complicit in Jesus’s death. St. Luke especially links the resurrected Christ with the city of Jerusalem – the place where Herod, Pilate, Jews and Gentiles joined forces to kill the messiah (Acts 4:27). In Luke’s gospel, the ‘road to Emmaus’ turns out to be a journey back to Jerusalem (Luke 24:33), Jesus appears to the 11 as they eat a meal together in the city, and the action finishes with the disciples worshipping together in the Jerusalem Temple. Extraordinarily, Peter’s sermon in Solomon’s Collonade suggests that the people of Jerusalem, including their leaders, had acted in ignorance (Acts 3:17) and extends an offer of salvation to any who will repent. Just where you might have expected a message that celebrated Jesus’s victory ‘over’ the Jerusalem set, we see a remarkable attempt to ‘win over’ Jerusalem.

Peter himself, of course, had colluded in Jesus’s death, three times denying his Lord. It is St. John who describes in painful detail Jesus’s reinstatement of the ‘rockman’ – probing deeply into the extent of Peter’s love for his master, before reissuing the summons ‘follow me’. The other ‘pillar’ of the early church, Paul, had persecuted Christian believers, to the point of death, and he too must be challenged and ‘turned around’ in order to be saved (Acts 9:4). For Paul this involves an experience of physical blindness and a deeply humbling re-orientation of his core beliefs and practices.

It is with personal experience that the now ‘Saint’ Paul, tells us that ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.’ This is seen nowhere more clearly than in a crucified Christ who reconciles precisely those who had hurt him. The perfect victim grants absolution to his persecutors. In the face of humanity’s misguided attempt to annihilate the messiah, God overcomes the forces of evil and death in order to reconcile humanity to its creator. And God puts this resurrection power to work in the lives of individuals to bring them back to himself.

I have begun to think in recent years that the gospel does not just contain the message of reconciliation: the gospel is the message of reconciliation. That means the gospel of Easter Sunday is at work in the very earthly and all too human Monday to Friday realities of life persuading us, coaxing us and sometimes dragging us to face those things in our lives which separate us from God and from one another. And it means that all who are involved in the messy, costly and demanding work of reconciling people to each other and to God are doing God’s own work.

We inhabit a world that is deeply marked at the moment by sharp and polarising divisions. The kind of passion, anger and even hatred that was manifest in Holy Week is sadly and increasingly evident in the social media, in newspaper columns and in certain kinds of political and even ecclesiastical discourse. The Bridge Builders conflict resolution consultants talk about ‘level 5’ or ‘holy war’ conflicts where only the annihilation of the other will satisfy.

As we approach Easter, I am thankful that the love of God reaches down to the point of our deepest need. God in Christ takes upon himself the enmity, insults and blows of our sinful humanity and responds with the gracious offer to forgive and to reconcile. On Easter Sunday God demonstrates that he will not be defeated in his efforts to renew and redeem his creation. Each time we overcome the sin that separates people from their creator and from each other we prove the ongoing power of the resurrection.

‘No more we doubt thee; glorious Prince of life.
Life is naught without thee: aid us in our strife.
Make us more than conquerors through they deathless love.
Bring us safe through Jordan to thy home above.’

And finally, I give my thanks as ever to all our clergy and lay people who will be involved in the preparation and conduct of worship for Holy Week and Easter. May God powerfully bless the words spoken and sung in our churches.

I wish you a blessed and joyful Easter,

+Robert Gibraltar in Europe

March Newsletter

Thought for the month

By the time this newsletter is published we will be well into Lent and my liver should be enjoying a well-earned rest. In Lent the norm is to give up the luxuries or those things we are inclined to overindulge in; alcohol, chocolate and according to an article in the Sun spending time on Facebook or taking selfies. Facebook is literally a closed book to me and I am superstitious about taking selfies.
One thing that is worth giving up is complaining. We are tempted to complain about the weather – a national disease. Understandable if we were still living in Great Britain but why complain when we live in a beautiful part of France where we enjoy on average 300 days of sunshine a year.
Give up complaining, be a glass half full person- rather than a glass half empty.
Don’t complain about how much tax you pay. To pay significant tax you have to earn significant amounts of money. Those living on the streets would love to have a problem with the tax authorities and a roof over their heads.
If your neighbour plays his hi fi at 2 in the morning don’t complain. Ring him at 4 and say how much you enjoyed the music!
Seriously, instead of moaning and complaining give thanks for God’s blessings and take up a random act of kindness. It sounds a bit Pollyanna but letting the granny – who was going to push in anyway – go to the front of the queue in the butchers or post office will brighten up her day and your day. Let the white van push into the stream of traffic. Try and make a difference.
For people who have really made a difference I was inspired by the story of a young girl in Preston recounted on a recent Songs of Praise.
The Hope Bag is a project set up by Megan Holmes who is 13 years old and goes to Crossgate Church Preston. The idea came to Megan when she was out Christmas shopping with her Mum in 2015. She began to notice a lot of homeless people on the streets of Preston. When she went home she continued to think about the subject and started to do some research. Megan discovered that over 54,000 people in the U.K are homeless and more than 100 million people are homeless worldwide. This information was shocking to Megan and she didn’t think this was right. This gave her the motivation to do something, she wanted to make a difference. Jesus cared for everyone and so Megan wanted to do just that.
Megan came up with the idea of a bag and called it the Hope Bag which is a reusable bag you can give to people on the street containing essential items for everyday use that you and me take for granted. She spoke with some homeless people and Homeless shelters to ask what they actually needed not what we think they need. And so, the Hope Bag was created.
Within the bag there are: toothbrush, toothpaste, thermal hat, foil blanket, Vaseline, socks, tissues, shampoo and body wash sachet, wipes and mints. All inside the semi waterproof drawstring bag.
To help this project get off the ground Megan has spoken at churches, schools, business meetings and other organisations to raise the awareness or our homeless problem and to raise funds.
Further details are available on https://www.crossgate.church/hopebags/
Let us think how we as a Church Community can make a difference.
Jim Pearce
Lay Worship Assistant

Prayer requests
We continue to pray for all those who are sick, suffering or in need.